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Chapter Twenty

June 23, 2014

The Forum, L.A.

“Don’t be nervous.”

“I’m not nervous.”

“You’re lying.”

“Of course I’m lying.”

“You’re going to kick ass out there.”

“Just promise me one thing.”


“After this is over and we’re back at the beach house, I get to have my way with you.”


“Your…way with me? Seriously?”

“You object?”

“I might cancel the concert just so we can go now.”

I laugh. I’ve never felt so sure about anything in my entire life. Somewhere between this morning, surrounded by all the guys and the time Brian and I left the dressing room, the air seemed a lot cleaner. I could breathe. I knew what I wanted.

I want to see Ben get his driver’s license.

I want Nick’s baby.

“Twenty seconds!”

Nick wraps me into his arms and kisses me so hot and heavy that I’m reluctant to let go. Only when I hear a roar of the crowd do we break.

“They want you,” Nick grins. “Not as much as me, but y’know…”

“Just a few hours.”

“Pure agony.”

I am on a cloud as I walk out onstage. My thoughts block my nerves until the first spotlight hits directly on me. I stare out at the audience, but I’m blinded.

The spotlight dims.

It’s a full house. I think about the old trick of picturing your audience naked, but to be truly honest the faces blur together. I sit down on my stool and reach out to grip the microphone. I glance to my right. The crowd begins to cheer once again.

Nick, my hero, takes a stool behind me, a guitar strapped around him. He begins to play the acoustic melody of my first song and I close my eyes.

Sometimes I catch myself staring at the sky
Looking for the clouds 'cause my lips are dry
I don't need a flood for the craving to begin
Just one drop of rain and I'm thirsty again

Everything seems so much more real onstage. I can feel every goosebump on my skin and every bead of sweat that swells up at my hairline. My foot taps to the beat and my voice is magnified with the science the speakers expel.

Even with my earpieces in, I know the crowd is singing along. I open my eyes, just slightly and I’m astounded to see a million little cellphone lights twinkling back at me.

I’ve never tried to imagine how Nick or any of the guys feel when they take the stage. I’ve only known how things look and feel from the other side. I almost stop singing as the enormity of the whole thing comes crashing down.

It’s the most amazing feeling in the world.

Somehow I manage to finish the first song. As the lights go up I see the crowd on their feet and the sound of their cheers pushes against the soundpieces. I glance over at Nick and meet the eyes that were already looking at me. I didn’t have to watch any playbacks to know that they had been on me the whole time.

I have never smiled so hard in my entire life.

The rest of my set is a blur. I mess up only one time and even then I am able to mask my horror with a long held high note and kicking the microphone stand out of my way. I finish the show bouncing around to the more upbeat songs, choreography be damned. I’m pretty sure I look like I’m doing a female version of the Carlton, but I don’t care. If memory serves correctly, Nick has actually mastered that dance during Love Somebody.

My encore goes on without a hitch and before I know it Nick and I are backstage and he’s kissing me again. We’re a sandwich of sweat and I’m laughing into his mouth, cupping his face and attacking him with my lips.

“As much as I hate to break this up, you seriously have two minutes to get ready.”

I open my eyes to see Kevin standing behind Nick. He’s already dressed and his hair is immaculate. Even his eyebrows look combed.

“Don’t you see we’re having a moment?” Nick asks, his lips already repuckering.

“I love you,” I say passionately, kissing him again. And again. And one more time for good measure…

“90 seconds…”

“Aw, fuck it,” Nick growls. He hugs me tightly. “Stay right here and watch,” he pleads.

“I won’t move an inch,” I promise.

No one else can teach me how to love again
‘Cause you left a permanent stain on my heart and I’ve been feeling it
Never mind what people say ’cause they don’t understand
How you left a permanent stain on my heart, you're never leaving it

I’m watching Nick jump around like a pogo stick when the disturbance happens. It starts as a mild scuffle and then my body guard is holding his walkie-talkie up to his ear.

“10-4. I’m on my way. Backup requested stage right for Mrs. Carter.”

“It’s not necessary,” I say to the big burly guy that looks a little bit like the guy from The Blind Side.

“But ma’am--”

“I’m fine. I won’t move.”

He hesitates, but another call on the radio causes him to move back into the crowd. I turn back to the stage. I feel no fear. Leigh and Kristin have been floating around from time to time. I have yet to see Leighanne except from a distance. She has set up shop stage left.

I don't know what he does to make you cry
But I'll be there to make you smile
I don't have a fancy car
To get to you I'd walk a thousand miles
I don't care if he buys you nice things
Does his gifts come from the heart?
I don't know
But if you were my girl
I'd make it so we'd never be apart

“Time to go home, Courtney.”

The voice in my ear is so unexpected that my heart stills. I’m reminded of the research I’ve seen on flight vs. fight and yet I do neither. I am immobile. The voice is so familiar, yet so strange here. Where I had wanted to hear the voice even two days ago...now...now…

Now it’s so unwanted.

He grabs my arm and only then do I move. I twirl around to face him.


He gives me a smile, but it’s a tense one that is barely holding back annoyance. “You look nice.”

“Nice?” I repeat dumbly.

“I knew you shouldn’t have been the one to go. I knew it should have been Kal. Kal’s too stuffed up and boring to try anything. But you…”

His grip on my arm tightens and I wince. “Stop…”

“Why the almost bald one?” he says venomously. “You went back for him?”

“It was a crush…”

“And then you end up with Nick fucking shit-for-brains Carter?”

“Don’t you dare--”

“God, he's always around you. He's like a damn dog. Don't you get it? I’ve love you since the day they assigned you to the lab, Courtney. Couldn’t you see that? Do you have any idea what damage you’ve caused? You’re lucky we had a spare controller. I’ve started repairing things along the way. We can go back.”

His eyes are tear-filled, his voice is pleading, yet I'm terrified rather than empathetic. I can not process this information that he has had a crush on me. It's non-imperative. “Repairing things?” I repeat.


My heart freezes for a second time. Ben is running towards me, a panicked look on his face.

Josh yanks the spare controller, embedded into an old, worn wallet, out of his pocket.

“No wait!” I scream. My only thought is to stop Ben. I yank so hard that I’m sure I will rip my arm off.


I break free and stagger towards him. He reaches out to me and our fingertips are almost touching. I can hear the sound of security running my way.

“All I needed was the big guys to have a little distraction. Kid, I hope you enjoyed being alive because you’re not going to be!”

My hand brushes Ben and is just as quickly pulled away as Josh tackles me. We hit the floor hard and my hip connects with the rough wooden floor of the back stage. I try to fight Josh off, but his arm is pinning me down, my hair shielding my eyes.

“MOM!” Ben screams. He leaps, but it is too late.

I feel it rather than see it.

There is cacophony all around me…

And then there is nothingness.